James Chasse lived independently with severe and persistent mental illness in downtown Portland. On Sept. 17, 2007, he died in the custody of Portland police.
The sound of the impact of two bodies crashing against pavement attracted the attention of diners at Bluehour. Autopsy revealed that 16 of James Chasse’ ribs had been fractured. Was it from the weight of police officer Christopher Humphreys? Or could it have been the punches and kicks, witnessed by the horrified diners, which he received once he was down?
Tasered and hog tied, Chasse lay in a pool of his own blood while cops and medics wrote up the incident. They described him to bystanders as a drug using transient with a police record. Chasse was thin and filthy, but he had no drugs in his system nor in his possession. He had no police record.
Nevertheless, in his report Officer Humphreys faithfully recorded what his imagination told him about the bleeding man hogtied at his feet. Who would object if he entered the word “transient” where he could have entered the address plainly stated on Chasse’s ID? As it turns out, Chasse’s parents took exception to having their son beaten to death in broad daylight and took the City of Portland to court.
Brian Lindstrom’s approach as a documentarian has always been to use his camera to amplify the voices of people we ignore, a self effacing tactic which showcases his ability to listen, not to speak. In Kicking and Finding Normal, he focused on people struggling with substance abuse. In Pay My Way With Stories, he followed students in a writing workshop for at risk teens. His focus was always on his subject, not on his reaction to his subject. Embracing the stripped down visual aesthetic of cinema verite, he was attentive, patient, and heroically compassionate, if a little emotionally remote.
In Alien Boy, he steps away from all that. His fury animates every frame.
Lavishly made, Alien Boy is a visually sumptuous, riveting narrative. For the first time, Lindstrom does not lead with his compassionate heart. He leads with his eye. A very smart choice. The filmmaking is so strong that by the time (3/4 of the way in) you are watching the video surveillance footage – shot by one of those Orwellian overhead cameras in the police station – of the moments when Chasse, still hog tied and close to death, begs for water, you are in too deep to turn away. Alien Boy is a horror film in that sense.
Brian Lindstrom is furious that James Chasse died at the hands of Portland police. But he doesn’t romanticize his fury. Too canny for that! Instead, he prioritizes the storytelling. Is it possible to make a film in which a grieving mother’s tearful halting narrative is not the most heartbreaking primary source material? Grief, yes. Facts, yes. Lies, yes. Poetry (written by Chasse), yes. Lindstrom shows us everything. Stylistically, it is a tour de force.
Such focus. Such discipline!
Brian Lindstrom spent the six years which have passed since James Chasse died making a film which tells that story so powerfully it will be seen around the world. In Alien Boy, he comes into his own as an artist.
I hereby claim Alien Boy as an Oregon film, on the basis of every possible qualifying criteria.
Director: Brian Lindstrom. Cinematographer: John Campbell. Score: Charlie Campbell. Writer: Matt Davis. Editor: Brian Lindstrom. Asst. Editor: Andrew Saunderson. Animation: Andrew Saunderson. Producer: Jason Renaud.
Randy Moe, Brian Lee, Steve Doughton, Mike Lastra, Eva Lake, Marian Drake, Betty Mayther, Rozz Rezbeck, Sam Henry, Michael Brophy, Brian Wasserman, Odette Dunbar, Yvonne Ingram, Russell Sacco, Richard Elliot, all James Chasse’s friends.
Linda Gerber and James Chasse, Sr. – James Chasse’s parents
Constance Doolan, Randall Stuart, Jamie Marquez, David Lillegaard – eyewitnesses
Matthew Charles Davis – Portland Mercury
Anna Griffin – The Oregonian
Karen Gunson, MD – Multnomah County Medical Examiner
Scott Westerman – Portland Police Association president
Tom Steenson – Chasse family attorney
Bob Joondeph – Disability Rights Oregon
Dan Handelman – Portland Copwatch
Karl Brimner – Director, Multnomah County Mental Health
Sam Adams – Mayor of Portland
Ted Wheeler – Multnomah County Commission chair
Alien Boy screens Feb. 24 – Mar. 7 at Cinema 21 in Portland, Oregon.